Tell me if this has ever happened to you during a group ride. You’re cruising along and the guy in front of you yells out “low branch!” every time there’s something you need to duck for along the trail. Or he yells out “bridge!” to tell you there’s a 3-foot-wide wooden structure spanning a dry creek bed 18-inches below grade. On a recent ride I even heard someone yell out “log!” which caused me to grind my teeth in frustration – what’s up with all the spoilers?
Yes, calling out obstacles on the mountain bike trail can be both courteous and helpful. For example, there may be unexpected problems ahead (say a newly fallen tree) or even a rider who is stopping abruptly (stopping!). Sometimes it’s a good idea to call out directions at a fork in the trail to keep the group together (right!).
Still, the whole idea of calling out warnings on the trail seems like a road biking thing to me, like when guys silently point at loose man hole covers or crumbling asphalt for others to avoid. The difference is, we’re mountain bikers – we expect – nay, enjoy – the bumps in the road! Here are three reasons I can do without trail spoilers.
1. I don’t want to know what’s coming up. For me, mountain biking is all about encountering the unexpected and when there are no more surprises left on the trail that usually means it’s time for me to find new dirt. I love the adrenaline rush I get from reacting quickly and making split-second decision making so when I know what’s coming up, that takes some of the fun out of biking for me.
2. Trail warnings break your concentration. I typically focus on picking lines 10-yards ahead of my wheel so to take a mental break to think about what’s coming up beyond that can be dangerous. Ok, so it’s not really that dangerous but it definitely harshes the flow. Do not harsh the flow.
3. Conditions change and everyone is ultimately responsible for themselves. On a recent night ride our group was turning left off a curvy, paved road and after looking both ways I called out “clear” and leaned into the turn. Just as I crossed the yellow line I saw headlights coming around the bend and while I had plenty of time, I realized the guys behind me wouldn’t make it. If they had simply listened to me without looking they would have been hit, long before I could follow up with a “car up.” The point is, even if someone calls out an obstacle, it’s still up to the individual rider to evaluate the situation and make the right decision.
I get that we’re “trying to have a a society here” and I understand that the riders who call stuff out are really trying to be helpful. Just next time – call out “spoiler alert!” before you tell me what’s coming so I can at least cover my ears.